Election 2016 - Obama Overreach 250x317Have you been following the emotional election nomination process of the past several months? Have you been keeping track of how our government officials (at all levels) have repeatedly and blatantly misused the constitutional powers of their offices? Have you been staying updated on the explosive political and military situations in the Middle East, Russia, and Korea? How about the radical policies being forced upon your local schools, your kids, or maybe even your church? Or the increase in the volume, nature, and intensity of crime in general across this nation? Or just the problems arising within your congregation or perhaps your home? Have you noticed that we live in a world more characterized by hate than at any other time in history? Things are out of control.

Personal Prayer 250x210My colleagues, it seems to me that things are so bad and threatening these days that no human effort could make even a dent towards fixing or improving what is going on around us. And that, of course, leads me to our obvious and growing need for inhuman, supernatural, divine help. And we seek and request that Godly remedy — including the power to sustain ourselves — through prayer … powerful personal prayer! It is needed more than ever.

Of course, most of you know that May 5 this year was the National Day of Prayer. I hope you and your people participated in this very important event and its activities held all around the country.

I remember a time in the early days of my pastoral ministry when I was facing a very difficult situation. I decided to share my burden with an older gentleman in the congregation whom I admired greatly for his spiritual insight. I poured out my heart to this wise man and then sat back awaiting his response. After several moments of silence, he looked over his eyeglasses at me and simply said, ‘Pray, brother, pray.”

I’m not sure that was the answer I was looking for, but it was the answer I needed. As the prayers I prayed were answered, his advice proved to be invaluable. So, whatever you might be currently facing — personally or nationally or internationally — I’d like to pass these words of wisdom on to you, my colleagues: “Pray, brother (sister), pray!”

Man in Prayer 250x167I do not know all I would like to know about prayer and how it works, but I do know from my own experience that the prayer of the intercessor is powerful. It projects faith and love in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul taught: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The psalmist David wrote, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11). He was probably referring to the things he learned both through experience and meditation after he had prayed. He seemed to keep asking God to “Hear my prayer.”

I learn a lot through my private prayer life, especially when I can just be quiet and talk to the Father as a son. It’s after the prayer, when I reflect on our conversation, that I most often hear from God or, at least, find direction.

When I pray, I find myself removed from the norm of my everyday activity. All formality aside, I just communicate my feelings, and often my frustrations and fears. In the end, I don’t always ask for much. I just talk and then, when it’s over (my part), I listen.

Prayer Conversation 250x250There were a lot of years during which I was guided by the “A-C-T-S” formula for praying (Affirmation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But as the years have passed, my time with the Lord has become less emotional, not as animated, and much more conversational and intimate. I still wonder why we make such a show of prayer in public and why we need to pray so predictably. God listens when His children humbly and faithfully seek His face, whether our concern is over a disobedient child or an international tyrant.

Remember the Lord’s instruction regarding simple prayer in Matthew 6:5-6, before He taught the disciples how to pray? “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. … Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (MSG).

WriteYourOwnStory 250x333The last paragraph of the Gospel of John ends, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). This passage makes me think about you and your story. You have a story — an amazing story of God’s grace and goodness. Have you ever written it down? Have you taken the time to start at the beginning and chronicle the events and miracle moments of your life?

Oh, I’m not saying you should do it for publication — but for your own sake. Yes, you face many challenges, but if you would make the time to “write your story,” I think you would find that it would be filled with many more good times than bad.

How do you begin? Just start writing things down, beginning today. That’s what I did.

For instance, talk about your childhood and those who influenced you. You will find angels in that chapter.

How did you meet your spouse? Who you are and what you accomplish can often be traced to that moment.

How did you enter into the ministry? What brought about that call? Did it happen suddenly in a service or at camp, or was it through a series of unmistakable divine interventions in your life?

Challenges Ahead 250x324What about the challenges, both personal and professional? We have all faced both sorrow and happiness. Each one of us has known failure, but we have also experienced victory. What about the miracles of God’s grace that have caused you to shake your head and say, “He really does care about me.” Write it down — let other people read it. Use it as a testimony.

Consider this. You have probably gone through situations that caused you pain, but you made it and now you are on the other side. How you dealt with those circumstances might be helpful to you when you are faced with a similar reality. You have likely gained wisdom by the ways you have handled or mishandled successful times, as well. All of these experiences may also help someone else, perhaps another pastor.

I would imagine you’ve learned several hard lessons as a parent and spouse — and maybe you (and we all) could benefit from what you went through. Your diary or journal would contain remembrances of good times and bad, successes and failures. You would be reminded of times when you were a good mom or dad and when you made some mistakes.

WriteYourStoryNow 250x123You would come face to face again with ministry issues that changed your life. For instance: “Today, I made a decision to move on. I will assume the leadership of a new congregation. My wife and family are thrilled. I feel I should have had a better chance to turn things around here.”

Or . . . “My son needed me today, but I had pastoral duties that would not allow me the time to be the dad I wanted to be. I hope he will understand.”

Or . . . “I’m sad today. The baby we had been praying for died. I was there with the family, but I didn’t have answers. I could only say, ‘God loves you now more than ever.’ They seemed to appreciate my concern and prayers.”

Or . . . “I was at lunch today with a man in our community. As we talked, I could see he was hungry for a new life. I led him to Jesus Christ. It was awesome. What a day!”

Or . . . “Sunday came too quickly this week. I didn’t have time to prepare well — but God helped me. Some said it was the best sermon I have ever delivered. I think it’s because I had to trust Him more.”

LearnFromYourPast 250x141Our stories should be told if for no one else but our families. Think of the blessings you would experience if you had such a book from your parents, other relatives, or significant people in your life. Please consider doing this. You, my colleague, have a story — tell it!

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago” (Psalm 77:11).

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced” (Psalm 105:4-5).

Easter_crosses_250x250A lot happened to our Lord Jesus Christ on three of the four days leading to Easter. The story is primarily recorded in the first four books of the New Testament — the Gospels. And, since we have largely learned this account by reading about it in a book, it can become quite easy to push it into that distant place in our minds where we store stories — to give it a polished, almost two-dimensional perspective without the dirt, grime, pain, agony, loneliness, loss, fear, and eventual amazement that were all part of it even touching us. It is too easy to forget that it was real. It actually happened — with all of the human experiences and emotions that we ourselves know all too well.

Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci 1495 444x250
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci – 1495

However you choose to celebrate Easter, it will be a time of remembering. You will feel the emotion of that last supper when Jesus — His heart broken — observed His faithful brothers and washed their feet. You will be reminded of that awful moment when one of those trusted disciples sold Him out for a paltry sum. You will remember His sadness when He went away to pray while those He would leave behind to lead the church slept. And there was the roughness with which the soldiers treated Him as He was arrested. You will recall the spectacle of the trial, the mocking of the crowd, and the haughty trade of Jesus for a real criminal. And how can you fail to remember the journey to the cross and creation’s reaction as Jesus endured agony and death?

The Passion of the Christ 250x375When I first viewed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I was mesmerized by the film. When it was over, I walked alone in the Colorado evening and just talked to my Lord. I remember saying to Him, “I don’t ever want to hurt You — You have suffered so much.” I was reminded on that Easter evening that the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were real — not fiction, not a church pageant, not the figment of one’s imagination. It was real! Your people need to understand that and experience His full presence.

Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann 1890 250x350
“Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hofmann – 1890

Let’s look briefly at those brutal and astonishing days. According to the Gospels, Thursday was busy — from the preparation for the Passover (Luke 22:7-23), to the last meal Jesus and His disciples shared (Matthew 26:21-24), to the garden where Judas betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:47-50), to the arrest, Peter’s denial (Luke 22:60-62), and the appearance of our Lord before the high priest (Matthew 26:57-66).

Then, in Mark 15, Luke 23, and Matthew 27, we follow Christ from early Friday morning through the evening — from Pilate, to the cross, and then to the tomb. As He was nailed to that cross, it was the weight of a world’s sin on His shoulders that was crushing Him, the reality that He who knew no sin was made to bear the sin of all mankind. Yet, always remember that we serve a resurrected Lord, not a suffering Savior.

But before that triumphant morning, there was the agony of the cross. We must also never forget that. “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear” (John 19:34). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

Crucifixion-250x162The suffering of Christ was reality — real pain, real blood, real loneliness, and real betrayal. It is all a part of the Easter miracle. I urge you to preach it! “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Early on Easter Sunday, the women visited the tomb (Luke 24:1-8), the disciples gathered (John 20:2-10), and the resurrected Lord appeared (Matthew 28:5-10). He is risen! It is Easter. Resurrection Day! We have the silence of a Saturday to contemplate the meaning and reality of the crucifixion, and then, like a sunrise or the beauty of a freshly blooming garden, it is Easter!

In truth, there is a time for everything. Solomon’s words ring loudly to all of us this Easter season: “A time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). That one phrase sums up the human predicament. We will all, in His time, move from this world into eternity.

Salvation at the Cross 250x170So, what about the reality of the afterlife? Is that not one of the major messages of Easter? What if we gain the whole world in life, but lose our souls in death? To the believer in Christ, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied. … But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19-20).

It is estimated that 40 percent of those who will sit in your sanctuary on Easter do not have a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord. You have an unprecedented opportunity to offer life to those who live in death: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). What a privilege to show these truly lost souls the way to eternal life.

CrossCelebration-500x250Your people need to remember that Easter was and is for them. It was real! And it still is! “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’” (Matthew 28:5-7).

Season of Lent 250x250I like to observe many of the holy days of the Christian Church calendar. I guess I grew up doing so and I continue to find that they help me focus on the life of Christ and the life that the believer should be following. The Season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which was just observed by many Christians last week. It typically concludes on Easter Sunday.

Now, since many of you do not pastor in denominations that closely follow the Church calendar, you may not be very familiar with this season, and I thought it might be interesting to examine the history of Lent. I found a well-written piece on this subject by an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Kenneth W. Collins (B.A., M.Div). So, rather than “reinvent the wheel,” so to speak, I wanted to share an edited portion of his explanation from his web site (which I recognize is only one version). He also includes a section on why he thinks many Christians do not celebrate this Church holiday:

Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday. We skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection. Lent begins on 10 February 2016 and ends on 26 March 2016, which is the day before Easter. …

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoi
“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. (See The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.) …

Lent began in the apostolic era and was universal in the ancient church. For this reason, Lent is observed by the various Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations, by Roman Catholics, and by Eastern Orthodox Churches.

It is much easier to explain who stopped observing it and why.

Didache (Teachings of the Apostles)
Didache (Teachings of the Apostles)

In the 16th century, many Calvinists and Anabaptists discarded all Christian holy days, on the theory that they were Roman innovations. That was their best information at the time, but today we know that they were wrong. In the late 19th century, ancient Christian documents came to light. The Didache from the first century, the Apostolic Constitutions from the third century, and the diaries of Egeria of the fourth century; all which give evidence of the Christian calendar and holy days. The Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions were written in the east, which denies it ever recognized the institution of the papacy. Egeria was a Spanish nun, but her writings also describe practices in the east. All of these documents came to light 300 years after it was too late for the groups who had already discarded Christian holy days.

In many cases, Rome was the last place to observe the holy days. For example, the idea of moving All Saints Day to November 1 did not reach Rome until 700 years after it originated in England, and the idea of celebrating Holy Week as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, was quite elaborate in Jerusalem before the early fourth century, but did not spread to Rome until the 11th century. Advent began in medieval Gaul and spread to Rome from there. Lent, on the other hand, appears to have originated in the apostolic age. The Apostolic Constitutions attribute the observance of Lent to an apostolic commandment. We can’t verify that, but we also can’t disprove it.

Draw-Near-to-God-James-4-8 - 250x250The Anabaptists gave rise to or influenced the Amish, the Mennonites, the Baptists, and the Plymouth Brethren. The Puritans, who were Calvinists, had similar views on worship, which is why they made Christmas illegal in Massachusetts at one time. (Some Mennonites, however, never rejected the Christian holy days.)

In the United States in the 19th century, the established denominations were slow to spread west of the Appalachians, which was the frontier at the time. The area was thinly populated and there were very few seminary-trained clergy. The lay people had been converted at camp meetings without any church background. They were influenced by the groups that had rejected Christian holy days, but frontier conditions were not conducive to structured liturgical worship anyway. They weren’t aware of the Christian holy days, and they didn’t have the equipment, the facilities, the education, the authorization, or the training to conduct liturgical worship. Therefore most of the religious groups that were formed in the United States in the 19th century do not have a custom of observing Lent. This environment had some influence on individual congregations in denominations that have historically observed the Christian holy days—so you will occasionally find a Methodist church that does not observe Lent.

Gradually, the holy days have returned to the churches that had lost them. The restoration quickly began with Easter. Christmas followed in the 19th century, and Advent and Holy Week became widespread among them in the 20th century. Lent is mounting a come-back in the 21st century.

─ Copyright ©1995-2016 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins. Reprinted with permission.
http://www.kencollins.com/holydays/holy-04.html

Lent-Submit to God - 250x300Let me be very clear, my colleague. I am not trying to persuade anyone that they should observe Lent. As Rev. Collins himself says on his web site: Do not allow my persuasive writing style to overcome your skepticism: weigh my words, check my facts, and accept only what passes muster. Don’t agree with me without first putting me to the test, which is your duty according to 1 John 4:1-3. I share this information only because I find it interesting.

For those of you who already participate in this annual activity, I believe that — for you — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.

Lent - RenewaL 250x250

During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:

  1. Who among us has someone to forgive?
  2. Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
  3. Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?

What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

Loading 2016 250x177It’s the beginning of a new year, and with that comes new opportunities. Whether you make resolutions or set goals, let’s all ask ourselves, “What can we as the leaders of Christ’s Church offer Jesus this year?” What difference can we make in His name? We have just celebrated the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What if we were presenting gifts to Jesus?

My list for all of us would include:

  • New Resolutions 250x313A concentrated effort by the North American church to do all we can to eliminate hunger and poverty throughout the world. (We could if we would.)
  • A return to biblical literacy by believers. A resolve to live by the truth of God’s Word — not just hear it, but do it!
  • A prayer that not one more North American pastor would be accused of immorality and/or inappropriate use of the church’s money.
  • A gift of ourselves to our Lord to live in such a way that He would be pleased and glorified.

Now, to offer these gifts to Jesus, we are going to have to work together. We are going to have to show goodwill toward one another. We are going to need more unity than we demonstrated this past year. Working Together 250x273We need to remember that, regardless of denominational affiliation, all pastors face similar challenges, and none of us can succeed in isolation. Our theologies may clash at times, our form of worship can be different, our traditions have been formed on separate journeys, but the human predicament we address is much the same.

How often do you “cross over” to fellowship with one whose theology and practices might vary from yours, but from whom you can gain new and meaningful insight into ministry? I am convinced that we can learn from one another. During this season of goodwill, what better way to spread peace and love than to reach out to fellow clergy and foster new relationships that will result in a stronger church? Two Cups 250x188Why not make a point of having coffee with a clergy colleague for the sake of becoming acquainted, bringing encouragement, and absorbing edification — even though you might disagree on some points.

Bottom line: We really do have so much more in common than we have differences. Call a colleague this week. Make plans to reach out to other clergy during this next year. When there is genuine fellowship among Christian leaders, there can be unity between Christian people, especially on the things that matter most, in spite of our diversity.

“There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Hope 250x205Just think, we all have the privilege of preaching that same message of hope that was delivered to the shepherds hundreds of years ago — a message still relevant and life-changing. This year, a number of people who need that kind of hope will be in your church. Some will be lonely, depressed, or afraid. Many will have lost loved ones; others will be sick. Some will have lost jobs. Some will be separated from children who are also away from God. There will be those with sad hearts camouflaged by smiling faces. They all need hope! Tell them what Jesus would tell them: “I have come to offer you hope, with love and a sense of belonging. I’m here for everyone, including the lonely and broken.”

Colleague, please make sure this message is clearly told and not lost in the daily grind to which so many of us have already returned. Be bold. Preach and teach the truth with passion and transparency. Let your people know how blessed and thrilled you are to serve them, and feed them with the sustenance of Scripture. Emmanuel — God with us! Now, that is what I call hope!

Faith Hope Charity 250x177So, let’s add to the list that I started above of some things we can offer Jesus this year the proclamation and demonstration of goodwill, hope, belonging, and love for everyone we encounter.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).

Merry-Christmas-Banner-250x190It’s my favorite time of the year, as many of you already know. Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy New Year! Happy Eternity!

Let me ask you something. How do you balance the many expectations of church and family during the holidays? It can be one of trickiest and most stressful times of any year. Suggestion: Keep everything in perspective.

Christmas-Fireplace-250x185I don’t remember the author, but someone wrote, “Christmas, after all, should be a time of warmth and celebration. A blazing fireplace, a brightly lighted tree, the sense of families drawing closer, the shining smiles of eager youngsters … but ironically, this joyous season often becomes a time of stress and dread for many.” Why? Because we lose perspective.

Christmas — when put into proper perspective — is a celebration of life for God’s people, a time of rejoicing and praise. We can celebrate because our Savior has come, and with Him have come freedom, hope, and peace for us all. When we lose perspective, this truth is muted.

I challenge you, my colleague, to put it all in perspective for your people this coming Advent Sunday. We are often frustrated because we take our eyes off the central figure and simply concentrate on the pageantry.

“Yet to all who received him [Jesus] … who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Now that’s perspective!

Christmas-Angels-and-Shepherds-250x325Perhaps the most complete and appropriate perspective of the season was held by the angels who visited the shepherds on that initial Christmas night. The first angel proclaimed, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody” (Luke 2:10, MSG). The heavenly messenger was, of course, talking about the arrival of the Christ child. It was truly a “great and joyful event.” My question to you: Are you having any fun? Is your Christmas season filled, as it should be, with joy?

Those of us in the clergy all know that, for many of the people we serve, the Advent season is not especially meaningful, much less joyful. How can we ourselves be convinced, and help our congregations see more clearly, that this beautiful event is meant for everybody, as the angel indicated?

Nativity-Scene-Mary-Joseph-Baby-Jesus-250x160Some thoughts:

  • Keep reminding them of the true meaning of the season.
  • Discourage materialism.
  • Encourage them to be involved in assisting others less fortunate.
  • Practice peace — especially in the home.
  • Use Christmas to establish new family traditions.
  • Make worship during the Advent season a priority.
  • Read the Christmas story from various translations for devotions.
  • Pick one or two people as targets for friendship evangelism.
  • Pray over every Christmas card given or received.

I know the ideas I suggest here are not profound, but they do offer handles for all of us to use as we observe this great and joyful event. Add your own ideas to these. And please keep and pass on the proper holiday perspective. “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Thank You to Pastors 250x140We are entering into my favorite time of the year. It starts with Thanksgiving this month and continues into the beginning of January. So, in light of the big holiday of November, I want to express to you pastors and to you who are on ministerial staffs my heartfelt appreciation for all you do for the cause of Christ. Thank you! May God bless you as you continue to bless others.

God’s Word, as paraphrased in The Message, says:

“So proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple” (2 Timothy 4:2).

“Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live” (Hebrews 13:7).

“Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. … Contribute to the joy of their leadership. … Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17).

“Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it” (1 Timothy 4:16).

I love you all and pray for you constantly. Thank you, again, for all you do. Our world would be a much darker place if it were not for your faithfulness and loving Christ-like example. That fact is immediately before us right now as we try to understand the evil events of the past week in Paris. Don’t ever give up! The world needs you.

A few years back, I returned to a church I had served in California to preside at a memorial service for a beloved physician I had been privileged to pastor. My former church was without a senior pastor at that time and I felt the freedom to respond to the family’s invitation.

GivingThanks7 250x145As I stood before people I had loved and cared for during a very important part of my life, I thanked God for the opportunity He had given me to walk with them through the valleys, rejoice with them on the mountaintops, and share a piece of their lives through good times and bad.

I looked into the faces of former parishioners who had come to know Christ through the foolishness of my preaching and had looked to me for guidance in times of perplexity. I had pointed them toward Christ and they had embraced Him and found the peace that passes all understanding.

I also came face-to-face with many of those who, during my absence, had lost their dearest loved ones. It was evident by the look in their eyes that, in many ways, life for them would never be the same.

Thanksgiving Bible Verse 250x130But do you know what I felt most as I addressed those who had come to offer comfort to a grieving family? I felt again that there is no promotion from the pastorate. We may go on to other things, but we will never go on to better things. Be a shepherd, my colleague; be a shepherd. And remember who called you and thank Him.

Some time ago, I attended a conference with officers from the Massachusetts Division of the Salvation Army. What a great group they are! On the front of their conference schedule was a simple verse titled “God Made Pastors.” I don’t know who the author is, but here’s how it goes:

God gave them tender hearts, to hold the hurts of others. He gave them gentle hands, to reach out with compassion and love. God gave them eyes to see the beauty and worth of a single soul. He gave them feet to move swiftly, to pursue justice, restoration, and peace.

God had His hand upon them — and breathed hope into their spirits. “He filled them with His strength, and placed a message of urgency around their lives. God challenged them to greater works than He had ever done. Then, with His own hand of blessing, He wrapped them up in His mantle of love … and called them pastors.

Thanksgiving Funny Poem 250x245Kind of nice, huh? God called you. He asked you to fill a spot, to carry a cross, to respond to an assignment that was exclusively yours. Thank you for your response. Thank you for all you do.

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “It was he who gave some to be … evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). That verse has your name all over it. Please don’t overlook the fact that what you are doing for Christ and the church is no accident. I challenge you to live like the called-out one God created you to be. Blessings, my colleague!

“And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11).

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).

We Celebrate You 250x141As I have been traveling and wandering around this summer, I have noticed what seems to be a greater emphasis on Clergy Appreciation Month (or Pastors Appreciation Month) than I have seen in recent years. The acknowledgement and participation in this annual month of gratitude has taken on a life of its own since its humble beginnings back in October 1994.

I certainly hope that you and your family have been/are being recognized and celebrated this month. You deserve it. I am constantly praying for you and your congregation and that you are working together like a well-oiled machine to bring glory to Christ and to share His salvation.

Thank You Pastor 2 250x166However, I also know that there are many of you who do not receive the accolades to which you are entitled. In many cases, this occurs because a congregation does not fully understand its responsibilities with regard to its pastoral staff (such as encouragement and affirmation). At other times, it could reflect on some omission or failure on the part of the pastor. I want to address this possibility. I want to share my own observations about how a pastor should be earning the appreciation of his people.

As the old saying goes, “Nothing succeeds like success.” When I travel about the country from church to church, I see this phenomenon repeated: “Success breeds success.” When a church is doing what it does best, people flock to it. When a body allows contention, indecision, staff problems, uncontested sin, and arrogance to sneak into its hallways, people drift away.

Thank You for Ministry 250x145When pastors ask me how to jump-start their churches, I tell them first to pray. Then, I tell them to encourage unity with the leadership, and have a vision. Do what you do best and don’t try to be like everyone else. Just be yourself! That’s how you and your congregation will please God.

With God on your side, a healthy self-image, and a renewed vision for your ministry, you and your church can become all that God has planned for you to be. But with an attitude of arrogance or pride or disharmony, the “slide” could be just around the corner.

The pastors I see succeed (and I’m not talking attendance numbers) are those who are assured of their call, cast a proper vision for themselves and their ministry, stay focused on the main thing, appreciate the success of their colleagues, don’t take themselves too seriously, maintain good health, love their families foremost, and walk humbly with their Lord. That’s a recipe for success.

You Are A Great Pastor 2540x145I began pastoral ministry in 1963. I was 23, fresh out of seminary, and assigned to a church on the wrong side of the street in a Southern California community. I was given practically no chance of pulling my little charge out of the doldrums. But I had learned from my heritage how important it was to love people. So I did.

I visited their homes, paid attention to their children, visited the sick in hospitals and nursing homes, and prayed for the downtrodden and lonely. I made myself available and told them publicly that, next to my family, they were the most wonderful people in the world to me.

It is critical for your congregation and community to know that the shepherd of the flock is truly that — approachable, responsive, gentle, and genuinely filled with compassion. Those characteristics are more significant for the leader of the flock than academic degrees, church growth numbers, or status achieved.

The Pastor Shepherd (John 10:1-28):

  • Lays down his life for his sheep.
  • Knows his sheep.
  • Protects his sheep.
  • Feeds his sheep.
  • Encounters his sheep.
  • Can locate the sheep in his pasture.
  • Searches for the lost sheep.
  • Promises eternal life to those who believe in the Good Shepherd. It is a ministry modeled after the Good Shepherd Himself.

Good Shepherd Appreciation 250x170If this is the mind-set and attitude you bring to your pastoral assignment, your congregation will undoubtedly appreciate all you do for them — just like we sheep of the Good Shepherd do.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself” (John 10:11, MSG).

“Whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

ChangeManagement 250x140When I was pastoring, school would usually begin the first Tuesday after Labor Day. The following Sunday would be a really big day. In fact, preparation for that Sunday would begin weeks in advance.

The choir would be back together after taking the summer off. Every Sunday school teacher would contact each child in his or her class. I would be excited to have the church family back in their places. It was really like a homecoming. And, most times, attendance would be up and offerings would be above average. And, as a pastor — like a proud father — I liked having the whole bunch back home again.

But now, things are different. School begins “whenever,” and families seem more fragmented than they used to. Excitement takes on a different tone and, for many pastors, the first Sunday back is just like any other, which is to say that it is fraught with change.

ChangeIsAProcess 250x188As you know, from one week to the next, the landscape of your congregation can appear very different. Even though folks say change is good, and most of the time it is, no one ever said it’s easy. Change is constant, change is tough, and change can be managed. The word “manage” is the one that is tricky.

I was thinking about how I have dealt with major changes in my life and, of course, the first word that comes to mind is panic — “How will we get through this?” But when reality sets in, you have to put things into perspective and continue to live consistently as a person of faith. Surrender the situation to God, who knows the end from the beginning. Do all you can to minimize the negative consequences of the change. Find godly people and take seriously their counsel. Keep your head up. Stay as positive as you can. Remember, people are watching and depending on you. Be thankful in all situations (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and be expectant. God has an answer. Change is coming, that is for sure. Bu change usually means opportunity, so manage it well!

UnlockOpportunity 250x245Pastor, between now and January 1, you will have the greatest opportunity to reach the greatest number of people you will have this year. But you must consider several things if you and your leadership are to succeed. Here they are:

Enthusiasm — You must be positive and expectant.

Game plan — What do you have in mind for your people? What new twist will you insert into your playbook?

Teamwork — Is everybody on board? Is your leadership team engaged?

Divine assistance — Sometimes a “hail Mary” pass is not just lucky, it is the hand of God enhancing hard work and preparation that pays off. God knows!

Persistence — Even if it doesn’t look that good on the scoreboard, you know when you have done your best.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure. … You, 0 LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:25-26, 28).

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).

Decisions - Train Tracks 250x166I was rereading the story of Abraham and his obedience to the call of God on his life and mission (Genesis 12). The thing I found intriguing is that Abraham’s mission was a mystery to him. Yet, he decided to pack up and follow God’s direction — and he was 75 years old! Then, when given the choice of the best land, Abraham gave it to Lot and took what was left. And he was rewarded for his decision.

Today, I deal with so many who think they must know each step to take before making a decision. And, when they do make a decision, they feel it must be “the best one.” Not so — God still asks us to live by faith and to bloom where we are planted.

I know there are those reading my words right now who are in the throes of making a big decision. They have analyzed all the angles to death and still find themselves undecided.

There are two things I see that worked in Abraham’s favor: First, he built an altar to the Lord wherever he was. He was obedient. He worshiped. Second, he entered into a covenant with his God. They made sincere promises to each other. God said to His servant, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). God was faithful.

You will be faced with many important decisions in your ministry and your life. To be honest, the process ties me in knots. But be faithful, be obedient, be courageous. Make your decision — and move on with confidence. So, how do you make major decisions in your life and ministry? May I share with you my process and see what you think? Here goes:

  • Decisions - Pros and Cons 250x175Be rational. Once you know a decision must be made, begin by using the “pro and con” test. What’s good — what’s not so good?
  • Where confidence can be guarded, talk it over with sensible, sensitive, spiritual people. Paint the scenario and give them time to weigh the complexities of the issue. See it through fresh eyes.
  • Be careful to consider the whole of the organization and your family, not just the immediate pressures or an individual’s feelings. What will the distant future be like — not just tomorrow?
  • Pray as you go — be constant in prayer. As you’re driving, shaving, or walking, talk it over with your Lord. He is with you. Acknowledge and involve Him.
  • Don’t play the “appease” game. Avoid the short-term solution that will only complicate things in the future. Concession made at the sacrifice of principle is never good.
  • As much as possible, have leadership on your side. If you want to be a human sacrifice, that is your choice, but it is much better to make all major decisions with folks standing beside you.
  • Make the right choice. You have prayed, you have consulted, and you have come to a conclusion. Now, by faith in God and yourself, do what is right.

Decisions - Paper Scissors Rock 250x167Remember the words Moses spoke to Joshua: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

We all know that life is uncertain and short. The psalmist agonized over the brevity of life, comparing each day to a handbreadth and man’s life to a breath (Psalm 39:5). He concluded that his only secure hope was to trust in the Lord. He was right!

Many of the people you serve are probably facing uncertainty, too. They need to make big decisions. The events of the past may have left them wondering if the bad guy too often wins. The psalmist, too, wondered about this. However, he wrote, “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more. … Observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:35-37). Our security then is this: If we are a people of peace, God will provide for our future.

Decisions - Yellow Face 250x280Let me conclude by saying that I am so impressed by men and women like you who have stared evil in the eye without blinking and led your people with a sincere faith, affirming the assuring words of Jesus to not worry. The psalmist knew that there would be desperate times — the earth itself might give way, waters rage, mountains quake. He even referenced the uproar of nations. But his conclusion was that, even if all these things happen, the Lord Almighty is with us. God is our fortress (Psalm 46). He is the rock you stand on. He is the source of your courage and boldness. He’s why you can say — “Do not worry!” — in the face of every decision.

“Do not worry about your life. … Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34).